Student records are terminated for a variety of reasons by designated school officials (DSO), Department of Homeland Security (DHS) adjudicators, and the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). DSOs occasionally have to assist a student who lost Active status in SEVIS after the record was terminated or completed.
F-1 reinstatement is a process for international students who have fallen out of status to regain their legal status in the United States. F-1 reinstatement removes a status violation from an F-1 student’s immigration record and reinstates the student to active F-1 nonimmigrant status, acting similarly to a waiver. Reinstatement is a decision made at USCIS’s discretion, much like waivers are. Success depends on whether the student offers a credible justification that downplays personal responsibility, proves the student had no intention to breach visa status, and demonstrates that if USCIS does not reinstate the student to F-1 status, it will result in extreme hardship.
Maintenance of F-1 Visa Status
As with all visa types, F-1 students are required to maintain status while in the United States. To maintain visa status, F-1 students must follow specific requirements, including:
- Reporting to the DSO before taking any actions that affect the SEVIS record, such as dropping to part-time status, taking medical leave, withdrawing from the program, participating in academic internships, or changing visa status.
- Reporting to the DSO at the start of each session or semester, or use whatever method the DSO requires to confirm enrollment each semester.
- Maintaining a full-time course load each semester (with an exemption permitted in situations specifically delineated in the regulations).
- Refraining from any unauthorized employment, and only participating in authorized employment, whether on-campus or off-campus.
In general, to be eligible for reinstatement, the student must:
- Not be out of status for more than five months at the time of filing or show the exceptional circumstance that prevented filing in that time frame.
- Not have a record of repeated or willful violations of regulations.
- Not have worked without authorization.
- Be pursuing or intend to pursue a full course of study in the immediate future at your school.
- Not be deportable for any reason other than failing to maintain F-1 or M-1 status.
- Be able to prove that: The status violation was brought on by circumstances beyond the student’s control and if the student is not reinstated, they will endure severe hardship as a result of their failure to maintain the minimum number of credits for which the DSO could have granted a reduced course load.
After the Form I-539 is submitted, there are very few if any justifiable excuses for a reinstated student to miss class. If the violation happened during the academic session, the student must continue to attend class both when the Form I-539 application is being prepared and while it is being processed. If the Form I-539 is submitted during a break in classes, the student must return to class during the next session or semester.
F-1 Reinstatement after five months
If you have been out of status for five months or longer, the reinstatement process can be more challenging and may involve extra processes. You must submit a Form I-539 application along with the required fees and supporting documentation to USCIS in order to petition for reinstatement. You must also pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee. However, reinstatement is not guaranteed and the decision to approve or deny the application is at the discretion of USCIS. It is important to provide a compelling reason for the lapse in status and evidence that you have taken steps to maintain your status since then.
The general steps involved with F-1 reinstatement after five months are as follows:
- Consult with a Designated School Official (DSO): To get started, make an appointment with a DSO at the office for international students at your school. The DSO will provide you instructions on the reinstatement procedure and assist you in compiling the required paperwork.
- File Form I-539: Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status Form I-539 must be submitted to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This form must be submitted with the required fee and supporting documentation, including evidence of your financial capability to fund further studies and evidence of your continuous ties to your home country.
- Write a Letter of Explanation: You must submit a thorough letter outlining the circumstances that caused you to lose status and the justifications for your request for restoration. The letter must contain proof that you had exceptional circumstances that prevented you from filing inside the five-month window, and that you filed your request for reinstatement as promptly as possible under these exceptional circumstances.
- Attend a Reinstatement Interview: You may be invited to an interview by USCIS to discuss the details of your reinstatement application. It’s crucial to be ready to discuss your position and offer any additional evidence that may be needed.
- Wait for USCIS Decision: After submitting your reinstatement application, USCIS will review your case and make a decision. The processing time can vary, but it’s important to be patient and follow up with your DSO for any updates. Students should not travel outside of the U.S. while reinstatement is pending. Reinstatement applications are considered abandoned when the student leaves the U.S.
If your reinstatement application is approved, your F-1 status will be reinstated retroactively to the date of your status violation, and you will be allowed to resume your studies. However, if your reinstatement application is denied, you may have limited options for further appeal or relief. You may be required to leave the United States and apply for a new F-1 visa from outside the country. Reinstatement after five months can be more challenging due to the longer period of violation of status. It’s important to carefully follow the reinstatement process, provide thorough documentation and evidence, and seek assistance from your DSO and an immigration attorney to increase your chances of success.
Reddy & Neumann, P.C. has been serving the business community for over 25 years and is Houston’s largest immigration law firm focused solely on US. employment-based immigration. We work with both employers and their employees, helping them navigate the immigration process quickly and cost-effectively.
By: Hari Subhash
Hari Subhash is a staff attorney at Reddy & Neumann, P.C. He works in the H-1B Department where he assists clients through all phases of the non-immigrant visa process.
Attorney Hari is a law graduate of the University of Pune. He subsequently received his LL.M from the University of Arizona, James E Rogers School of Law. He has over 10 years of experience as a lawyer in civil suits, labor and employment law, family law, personal injury, and ADR proceedings in India. During 2018 – 2022, he volunteered at Bankruptcy Assistance Center, Washington DC. Since 2019, he has been working as an attorney in the areas of immigration, bankruptcy, and personal injury in the United States. As an immigrant himself, he hopes to continue to play a role in helping individuals to start their journey in the United States lawfully and all it offers.